Exasperating, profoundly touching and sublime, The Dallas Theater Center’s production of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, is the wrenching, absorbing narrative of the Younger family. An African American family living in Chicago in the late 1950’s, the Youngers struggle to eke out a tranquil, fulfilling existence in the midst of racism and poverty. Lena is the matriarch. She and her daughter Beneatha, son Walter Lee, his wife Ruth, and son Travis all share a crowded (though cozy) home. Walter Lee earns money as a chauffeur, while Ruth cleans houses and Beneatha attends college and explores her African tribal roots. A deep sense of dissatisfaction has started to overcome Walter, and he and Ruth are growing distant from each other. When Raisin* opens they are all expecting an insurance check, following the death of Lena’s husband and Walter’s father. The $10,000 Lena will receive is enough to change their lives for the better. But she’s not at all convinced she wants to loan any money to Walter to start a liquor store, his answer to all their problems.
In 1959, Raisin was the first drama by an African American woman playwright, to open on Broadway. It explores the overwhelming sense of despair and malaise that creep in when people are disenfranchised, oppressed, exploited and diminished. The Youngers are doing their best. They make the effort to press on, even when circumstances seem to get the better of them. When Ruth considers terminating an unplanned pregnancy, Lena makes a very compelling and revealing speech, declaring that their clan is about nurturing and sustaining Life, not ending it. It’s not so much that she’s condemning abortion, as she’s refusing to surrender the hopelessness that’s poised to swallow them up. Hansberry paints an extremely bleak and melancholy portrait of a family aching to simply thrive and find some measure of enjoyment in their time here on earth.
Raisin has a curious tone that seems to combine cynicism with determination. Dejection with pleasure. Optimism with catastrophe. The conflict comes from the characters’ resolve to rise back up, every time they get knocked down. On one level Lena seems almost quaint, in her simplistic grasp of the changing world around her, yet as the play evolves and shifts, she seems far wiser about the nature of humanity than any of them. Her distance from the politics and squabbles, gives her a keener perspective of the truth. When she insists that Travis be present when Walter is about to seal a dubious transaction, she knows exactly which buttons to push.
DTC’s production of A Raisin in the Sun is well-realized, brimming with warmth, introspection and resonance. Tre Garrett’s direction is spot-on, relaxed but steeping underneath, and his cast suffused with energy and moxie. Liz Mikel (Lena) could turn the earth by sheer force of will, Bowman Wright (Walter Lee) has a striking gift for pathos, Tiffany Hobbs (Beneatha) has an irresistible joie de vivre and Ptosha Storey (Ruth) has a dogged dedication that is both inspiring and heartbreaking.
Dallas Theater Center presents : Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, playing September 3rd- October 27th, 2013. Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. AT&T Performing Arts Center. 214-252-3927. 2400 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201. DallasTheaterCenter.org.